An Jo’s Thoughts on ‘Django Unchained’
Note/Disclaimer: The use of politically incorrect epithets/words in the below note is merely to respect the film-maker’s political incorrectness. No other agenda of the author regarding race should be construed otherwise.
Quentin Tarantino is like an irresistible bar-tender; one that you wish to go to anytime you want, without a second thought, so that you can be rest assured that the flowing wine he’s going to serve would mess up your brain in an exhilarating way. The only difference being that you don’t want to narrate your troubles to the bar-tender and bore him/her to death; instead, just sit back and listen to the story that the bar-tender tells you! Along with the other master of moving images Steven Spielberg, this year, he serves us a more bizarre and history-skewing concoction that only a few seasoned bar-tenders could even think of serving. While Spielberg still remains faithful to the ‘iconicity’ of Lincoln and the historicity of slavery in the United States, Tarantino sews up that bit of history in such a bizarre cloth that it would put the sartorial antics of Lady Gaga to shame. With bits and moments of pain, bigotry, violence, and oppression serving as the many buttons, as mirror-pieces, as tie-knots in this ensemble, he holds such a mind-numbing cloth of slavery in our face that there is just no lurking or turning away. In ‘Django Unchained’, Tarantino simply disregards and throws out the window the serious narratives of history but brings into the room that essence of history with such an unkempt cinematic conviction that one feels more humanized in the process of understanding the dehumanizing aspect of oppression that any student of history that has ever struggled and managed to get even a B- in American History classes would simply lap up.
He begins the movie with the titles being pasted in blood-red against the half-scenic dry-lands of Texas reminiscent of the ‘B’ movie westerns’ credit-display styles. From there-on, he takes us on a journey from Texas to Mississippi through Tennessee of a bounty-hunting team earning ‘cash for corpses’ comprising a hideous spring-tooth adorned carriage riding Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) and his Mandingo/valet/ Mr. Django (a ‘nigger’ portrayed by Mr. Jamie Foxx). And since he has a weakness for the German fatherland, he enunciates to Mr. Django an irresistible proposal of working together to freeing Django’s wife Broomhilda (named after a German legend) while he makes his profits both monetarily and conscientiously along the way. Well, since this is set in 1858, before the civil war and before the complete owning of emancipation by Lincoln, Django accepts the deal—not that he had many other choices! This leads them to Mr. Calvin Candie, deliciously played by Leonardo di Caprio, showing us the ugliness he is cinematically capable of behind that pretty face. As a plantation and slave owner down south, Leo is both irresistible and slimy. He comes across as a southern, ruthless slave-owner who is the no-nonsense business-man of slaves and has a seemingly incestuous relationship— Roman emperors anyone? Let’s keep the blood-stream unpolluted from foreign bodies—with his charming sister (a beautiful Laura Cayouette). How then, the duo of Shultz and Django go about freeing Broomhilda from the clutches of Mr. Calvin Candie is what adorns this part-western/spaghetti/history/morality/civics-laden art by Quentin.
Quentin leaves almost no stone unturned to spool us a movie that is bizarre and irreverential, irresponsible but soul-searching at the same time, and definitely searing. There is a schizophrenic underlining to his thinking by playing to the gallery/stereo-type when one of the black-servants in the movie says, ‘But all niggers are Herculean!’ and then a few frames later, he goes on to break the oft-lamented ‘institutional’ stereo-typing of blacks in a symbolic scene when Django uses his wits to out-fool his white-owners and rides off into the sun-set to free his wife while the remaining three black slaves just sit in their carriage, chained, not doing—not even trying— anything for themselves! This might be an extremely disturbing metaphor for any oppressed class anywhere in the world regarding the necessity to ‘get off their posteriors’ and do things for themselves without caring two hoots for the politically and academically-correct protective excuse of ‘institutionalized racism/oppression.’ But Tarantino just wants the audience to rack their brains and get the message that he shoots at us slyly, in his own wacky way. If oxy-moronism had a human personification, it would be Quentin Tarantino. The violence in the movie is part-cartoon and part bloody; but disconcerting it definitely is. While he shows blood spurt out of the bodies just like a torrent of melon-juice being shot out of water-melons; he ensures that every whip-lash, every uttered ‘nigger’ word register a deeply emotional impact.
The film just flies by for its running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes. Tarantino simply writes outlandish characters, and then finds even more outstanding actors to portray those characters. There is a problem with one actor, however, and that is Christoph Waltz. The man simply gobbles up any other actor in the frame! He virtually owns the first 30-40 minutes of the initial frames and also in the latter part during his negotiations with Leo’s Mr. Candie with his moustache-twirling accented antics. He plays to the gallery and how! And after him, you have Samuel Jackson’s Steven, an oppression-internalized black house-servant of Mr. Candie’s, who isn’t hesitant to be the most unctuous creature on this earth. He is simply remarkable as the ‘yes-man’ of Candie. His expressions of exasperation at the sight of a ‘nigger’ riding on a horse along-side a white man are a hoot, particularly when Candie asks him to set-up rooms for the both in his estate! Jamie Foxx comes across as suitably repressed but as a somewhat ‘other’ when considered in comparison to his ‘brothers’ and environs, maybe necessarily so.
The ultimate winner in this enterprise, however, is, Quentin himself. His cinema comes across as inspirations from cinema themselves, not real-life. All his tropes, his influences, suggest uni-directionally to a cinematic universe and not anything otherwise. He makes no bones in using extremely contentious historical facts to deliver his dark humor. There is an uproarious scene where an army of whites in Klu Klux Klan gear swoop down to kill Django and Schultz and find themselves discussing for a flat-out 5 minutes regarding their masks having been poorly stitched with holes poking out of all the wrong places and hence facing the conundrum of whether to actually wear the masks or go bare-faced during the raid! There is also a chilling scene—a crude but very effective way of tackling the ‘gene’ theory of oppression—which Leo enacts brilliantly when he breaks open the exhumed skull of a ‘loyal’ black-servant to point out 3 dimples that brilliant brains like Isaac Newton and Galileo are supposed to have had but which, curiously, the blacks are supposed to be having on the same side of the skull scientifically screaming ‘subservience’ or ‘servility.’ Quentin cares two-hoots what people ‘conceive’ and interpret of his films. And this was more than apparent when the theater in which the writer watched in Washington, DC—filled to the brim with blacks, erupted with joy when Django shoots Candie’s sister cold-bloodedly in spite of the fact that she had actually prevented and objected to a dinner-table humiliation of his wife! Through such incorrigible scenes, Quentin shows us the dehumanizing effects of oppression on the oppressor and the oppressed, and thus, holds a mirror to the audience that claps when a person belonging to the ‘other’ side is killed and no remorse is felt, either by the whistling audience or the ‘rambunctious’ lead; whether they have got the point or not is solely upto them.
Quentin scored big with Pulp Fiction; here he scores bigger with pulp history. The D in Django might be silent, but the E in Quentin screams entertainment with a capital E.